24 October 1927
At 0500 hours on 24 October 1927, at Shattrah RAF base, outside Al-Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, a notice was erected for pilots with a short message – ‘Carry on Bombing !’ The target was the villages of the Al Hatim tribe, which had already endured two days of bombing. The inhabitants had still not paid a collective fine imposed on the entire population. An amount which would have been assessed as appropriate and attainable by British colonial administrators from the comfort of fan-cooled offices in Baghdad.
There is no mention in the otherwise detailed RAF records of the alleged offence which had originally initiated the fine and subsequent bombing, but usually such punitive operations were for some perceived recalcitrance. Possibly a failure to pay taxes or to hand over a specified quota of rifles or a suspected unwillingness to disclose information on local insurgents. Such details were not for local RAF officers to question. Failure to pay the fine was, of itself, considered a sufficient pretext for the air strikes. A reminder of the amount overdue, together with a new ultimatum, had been delivered to village elders 48 hours earlier.1
Immediately the ultimatum expired, nine Ninak open cockpit biplanes immediately took off to bomb two villages, Fasamah and Albu Chamil, pour encourager les autres. An official report of the operation commented that ‘the attack continued throughout the day with a short break for refueling and refreshments,’ adding that ‘both villages were practically destroyed by bombs and the debris completely burnt up by the incendiary bombs and Very lights.’ A total of 330 20 lb bombs, nine 112 lb bombs and 9 canisters of incendiary bombs were dropped on the two villages as well as hundreds of rounds of machine gun fire used in strafing attacks. Although ‘a few men were seen lurking in the ditches,’ there is no mention of any return fire directed at the Ninaks or any damage otherwise sustained by the aircraft.2
The following morning Iraqi colonial police entered Fasamah at dawn, ‘encountering little or no opposition.’ The RAF report on the operation noted that ‘a few fires were created and the destruction of the remaining property was completed.’ When, shortly afterwards, the security forces reached Albu Chamil, the inspector of police informed the RAF commander, ‘that there was very little property left to destroy, (it) having already being demolished by air action.’ The RAF concluded that ‘the results were very good… only a small percentage of bombs failed to explode.’ No estimate, however, was made as to the number of people killed or wounded by the bombing as this was not deemed important in judging its efficiency.3
- Appendix B: Operations Against the Al Hatim Section of the Bani Rikab, 16.10.27 to 26.10.27, pp. 2-3, AIR 5/1254 accessed at the National Archives.
- Ibid., pp. 3-4.
- Ibid., pp. 3-4.
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